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Game development








Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.


By me. Uses Adaptive Images by Matt Wilcox.

Heat Signature’s Launch, And First Player Legend

A Leftfield Solution To An XCOM Disaster

Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

Postcards From Far Cry Primal

Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem

Kill Zone And Bladestorm

An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

Teaching Heat Signature’s Ship Generator To Think In Sectors

What Works And Why: Multiple Routes In Deus Ex

Natural Numbers In Game Design

Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

Writing vs Programming

Let Me Show You How To Make A Game

New Heat Signature Video: Galaxies, Suction And Wrench-Throwing

What Works And Why: Nonlinear Storytelling In Her Story

My Idea For An ‘Unconventional Weapon’ Game

From Gunpoint To Heat Signature: A Narrative Journey

The Cost Of Simplifying Conversations In Videogames

What Works And Why: Invisible Inc

Our Super Game Jam Episode Is Out

What Works And Why: Sauron’s Army

Showing Heat Signature At Fantastic Arcade And EGX

What I’m Working On And What I’ve Done

The Formula For An Episode Of Murder, She Wrote

Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer

Improving Heat Signature’s Randomly Generated Ships, Inside And Out

Gunpoint Patch: New Engine, Steam Workshop, And More

Distance: A Visual Short Story For The Space Cowboy Game Jam

Raising An Army Of Flying Dogs In The Magic Circle

Floating Point Is Out! And Free! On Steam! Watch A Trailer!

Drawing With Gravity In Floating Point

What’s Your Fault?

The Randomised Tactical Elegance Of Hoplite

Here I Am Being Interviewed By Steve Gaynor For Tone Control

Heat Signature: A Game About Sneaking Aboard Randomly Generated Spaceships

The Grappling Hook Game, Dev Log 6: The Accomplice

A Story Of Heroism In Alien Swarm

One Desperate Battle In FTL

To Hell And Back In Spelunky

Games Vs Story 2

Gunpoint Development Breakdown

Five Things I Learned About Game Criticism In Nine Years At PC Gamer

My Short Story For The Second Machine Of Death Collection

Not Being An Asshole In An Argument

Playing Skyrim With Nothing But Illusion

How Mainstream Games Butchered Themselves, And Why It’s My Fault

A Short Script For An Animated 60s Heist Movie

The Magical Logic Of Dark Messiah’s Boot

Arguing On The Internet

Shopstorm, A Spelunky Story

Why Are Stealth Games Cool?

E3’s Violence Overload, Versus Gaming’s Usual Violence Overload

The Suspicious Developments manifesto

GDC Talk: How To Explain Your Game To An Asshole

Listening To Your Sound Effects For Gunpoint

Understanding Your Brain

What Makes Games Good

A Story Of Plane Seats And Class

Deckard: Blade Runner, Moron

Avoiding Suspicion At The US Embassy

An Idea For A Better Open World Game

A Different Way To Level Up

How I Would Have Ended BioShock

My Script For A Team Fortress 2 Short About The Spy

Team Fortress 2 Unlockable Weapon Ideas

Don’t Make Me Play Football Manager

EVE’s Assassins And The Kill That Shocked A Galaxy

My Galactic Civilizations 2 War Diary

I Played Through Episode Two Holding A Goddamn Gnome

My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection

Blood Money And Sex

A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

First Night, Second Life

SWAT 4: The Movie Script

PC Gamer Podcast: March

Tim calls this episode 11, because it’s the 12th, and I call it March, because it’s out in February. I’ve numbered the file 185, after the issue of PC Gamer that’s coming out this week.

In it, I do an impression of the bartender from the Witcher, we discuss the worst games of the year, gasmasks, some new information on the Team Fortress 2 changes, pleasing pirates in Sins of a Solar Empire, and our crack legal team’s advice on how to say things we’re not allowed to say.

Editor Ross Atherton is the smooth-talking host, Deputy Editor Tim is the one with the emphatic voice, I’m the low drone, and News Editor Craig is the Scot.

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Jason L: Are you the one mentioning AudioSurf? At that point you and another guy sound the same. If so, do you think anything about it? I was sort of disappointed. Has it improved since the betademo?

Tom Francis: I think it's Tim who sounds a bit like me. I haven't played AudioSurf yet, so it's probably Tim talking about that.

Tim E: It amazes me that people can't understand that we have an episode 0 that we didn't actually put online until after Episode 1. Hence the entirely sensible numbering policy.

The only solution is to have a leap-podcast.


Tom Francis: I still haven't actually played AudioSurf, but I've just been watching it being played in the office and it looks awesome. Why did it disappoint you?

ImperialCreed: I got hold of Audiosurf in the beta and love it still - the only downside to the thing is that it's only as good as your music collection. I tried playing a track of some Miles Davis and it was all over the place, just too damn hard. Interpol was just too boring. I found a sweet spot of NiN, Daft Punk, LCD Soundsystem and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and haven't looked back. Disappointing? Hardly.

The_B: I believe Jason may possibly be dead inside.

ImperialCreed: Seconded

Tom Francis: Played it at last; it's awesome. Varies a lot with the track, obviously, but most work really well. It actually does feel like a fresh way to play music - if I made music, I'd check each track with Audiosurf to see how it felt.

I suspect it'll be huge. As is, but more so if they port it to iPods, mobiles, PSPs. Perfect for commuters.

Jason L: I may well be, and I'm actually quite glad to hear the love pouring out past me in the gnoosphere. I certainly applaud it; it's the first visualiser thing in the history of ever that actually seems to pay attention to the music and correspond in some useful way. Every track is distinct and appropriate to the sound. Just for that it deserves to go down in history, and I want to love it.

The problem is that the game I played while listening to and watching the music immediately and persistently bored me to tears. I can collect these things! In groups! Of columns! Or something! And if I collect a bad one they turn grey! Or something! I'm not interacting with the music, and I can't tell whether I'm doing well or poorly because there is neither a generated target high score to pull me nor an opponent or even a rubber-band progress line to push. There's just too much boring mental paperwork in keeping track of the colour points hierarchy while avoiding making X group while waiting for a Y to appear in the Z column at random in service of a meaningless highscore. A line-following or obstacle avoidance game could have worked - as is, I found I was essentially trying to watch a fun toy while playing an overcomplicated pop-three so I regretfully gave up both.

Watch this: I gave it another shot before posting to make sure I wasn't saying anything grossly inaccurate. The final line of the first draft was a request that he make an edition with the game part turned off. Oh look, there's been an update. Now you have to sign in, which doesn't make me happy but for a free beta I'd be a jerk to complain. However, there is also now a 'freeride' option. Here, have some of my money, sir! I love Audiosurf now that I never have to play it again.

Seniath: My only problem with the Freeride is that you can't have it running in the background whilst doing something else. But then, I guess if I had less screen real estate that wouldn't be an issue, so nm. I'm somewhat hoping they don't port it to the iPod, for no doubt if they did, it'd be Touch only (I'd hate to try and control it with a click wheel), thus increasing my urge to plop down some insane amount of money for one.

Tom Francis: I must admit I think it's a mistake to have you 'die' if you overfill a column - it kind of ruins your enjoyment of the song, and I think that's more important than the challenge of the game. I'd rather that column just stayed full, and if I want to free it up I have to match stuff or repaint it.

The_B: I think the main issue for you Jason is that you seem to be the sort of player that isn't motivated by an online high score. And that's fair enough - I agree that people who actively want more than that may come away thinking a little like it's not much more than a vizulisation. But for those that do like high scores, it's amazingly compelling to try and beat those scores - heck, even to just beat your friends rather than the world's high scores. I admit, little more than 18 months ago, I thought Achievements would be a flash in the pan, and couldn't see how exactly they would enhance gaming. But I've even suprised myself at how much of a motivator they and high scores can be to me.

And another half of the fun, I feel, is finding the tracks that make the best surfs.

Jason L: Oh, I like Achievements and leaderboards, me...or at least I fully expect to. I only finally got a 360 a couple of weeks ago, and only got time to tuck into the thing last Friday. I don't have the kind of addictive personality that goes for MMOs and Gamerscore, but I do like seeing the little Dings when it pops up an Achievement and I plan to take a pop at some lap times and Geometry Wars rankings on Live. Online and persistence in moderation are great.

The main problem for me isn't that online leaderboards per se are unable to substitute for a proper generated goal, but that these in particular just don't carry any meaning for me. I can't see the skill in this game. Sure, you can memorise where it throws a lot of reds and yellows and maybe even what stacks it drops them in. But is that even optimal? Should I take what I can get in blues? There's no feedback in the game to tell me when I'm doing well; only exhaustive and repetitive testing and calculation will tell, and in the meantime I'm recording numbers in some notebook while playing a pop-three. The greed ratio probably varies from song to song, too. Actually, is that what this game is about? Is the high-score competition fundamentally a memorisation competition? That's how it looks to me, am I just missing something big?

Anyway, in summary I can derive fun from online competition but in order to enable that the game has to first be some minimal level of fun on an immediate level. The core experience here, in my mind, was supposed to be me grooving to my music. The game part has no groove, no sense of momentum at all. I've also read on RPSh about a problem that hasn't affected me personally and won't - that it combines scores based on artist and title instead of a checksum. There's a strong argument to be made that that's the preferable route, but on the flipside it means that different versions of the song have different intrinsic scores and you can't tell if people are actually playing the same track as you. If I were trying to get stuck into online high scores that uncertainty would drive me frothing batty.

Jason L: Aargh, I was only trying to clarify my situation but I sound like I'm full of hate for Audiosurf. Not the case; again, it is a REZ that works with everything and I'm happy.

The_B: It is worth mentioning though that AS does have a report function, if someone has sn entirely different looking track to what you played.